Thursday, August 24, 2006

State's making progress on energy

Side Note: I would love to see the State work with local metal manufacturing businesses to design and fabricate economical towers for residential wind turbines. This would drive down the cost for bringing lots of wind energy online and should help create jobs.

Blethen Papers
Maine Voices: Beth A. Nagusky
August 24, 2006

When Gov. Baldacci was elected four years ago, crude oil was just over $20 a barrel and gasoline and heating oil were both less than $1.50 per gallon. Global warming was not a household word. Nevertheless, the governor created the Office of Energy Independence.

He recognized that saving energy and producing energy from Maine's vast renewable resources would help create jobs in Maine and improve air quality.

In 2003 the governor signed an executive order requiring that all new and renovated state buildings incorporate the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards.

In 2004 he signed an executive order requiring the state to improve the fuel economy of the vehicle fleet and reduce miles traveled. The state has increased the number of hybrids in the fleet five-fold, to 67, and saved nearly 300,000 gallons of fuel. We have installed preferred parking for carpools and vanpools and will double the Go Maine van-pool program.

In 2003 Maine became one of the first states in the nation to use biodiesel, a renewable fuel, to heat state office buildings. Maine has reduced energy usage by vending machines and installed energy-efficient traffic signals and lighting in state buildings. In 2004 the governor used efficient LED lights on the Blaine House holiday tree, reducing electricity consumption by about 90 percent.

The following year the White House tree sported LED lights. As Maine goes. . . .

The governor realizes that Maine cannot control world oil prices, but we can take charge of our energy consumption to reduce our energy bills. This week Gov. Baldacci launched Operation Keep ME Warm for the third year in a row.

This program relies on volunteer teams throughout the state to "winterize" the homes of Maine's most vulnerable citizens, our seniors and persons with disabilities and young children who receive fuel assistance.

In the past two years nearly 4,000 homes have been winterized with window treatments, caulk, pipe insulation, plastic, energy-efficient light bulbs and more. First-year energy savings alone are estimated at between $100 and $200, and many of the energy-saving measures provide savings for several years.

Our goal this year is to complete 3,000 more homes between October 19 and 22.

The governor also kicked off the contractor training for the "Maine Home Performance with Energy Star" Pilot Program this week. This program offers homeowners a one-stop shopping opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of their whole house.

Home improvements will reduce energy bills, improve comfort, reduce maintenance costs and improve the health of buildings. Energy savings will range from between 10 percent and 50 percent.

This three-year pilot program will provide training and marketing support to contractors in York, Cumberland and Androscoggin counties. Low-interest loans will be made available to income-eligible home- owners through the Maine Housing Authority.

Finally, this week the governor's Omnibus Energy bill takes effect. The legislation creates an 8-cent per gallon excise tax reduction for diesel fuel that contains at least 2 percent biodiesel.

The new law also sets a goal of increasing renewable power in Maine by 10 percent by 2017. Maine is blessed with vast renewable energy resources, including wind, water, wood, solar and tidal.

While our neighbors turn away clean windpower projects, Maine people watch the construction of the Mars Hill wind project with excitement.

The governor's energy bill also allows the Public Utilities Commission to purchase energy from conservation and efficiency programs, just like it purchases energy from traditional power plants. In the past two years, the governor has proposed and signed legislation creating a solar rebate program and natural gas conservation programs.

Maine is poised to become the most energy-independent state in the nation.

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